James Smith & Sons is a lovely, old-fashioned, characterful shop situated on New Oxford Street in central London. Established in 1830, it has over 180 years of experience in manufacturing the finest umbrellas and walking sticks, selling to the elite of English aristocracy; William Gladstone (four times British Prime Minister in the second half of the nineteenth century), Bonar Law (Prime Minister in the 1920s) and Lord Curzon (Viceroy of India).
The original founders also owned other businesses including hatters and haberdashers, so the company has a long history of dealing in the traditional trades required to supply a gentleman’s wardrobe and accessories.
Walking into the shop is a little like stepping back in time. The premises are small, but packed with a delightfully interesting and eclectic mix of brollies and canes. It is full of treats, and the fact that it is rather overcrowded with stock adds to its charm. There is the full gamut of woods on display, from pale, gnarled and knobbly old canes, to dark, refined, clean-cut walking sticks with metal tips that provide a satisfying click with each step. One could easily imagine Dr Watson in the corner of the shop, sorting through walking sticks to purchase a new one for Sherlock Holmes – possibly with a sword concealed inside.
If you are searching for an unusual but practical gift for a gentleman, you would struggle to do better than make a visit to the store. For my father (a golf nut) I went specifically to the store to purchase a golf-club styled umbrella for his sixtieth birthday. One could only hit a very short golf shot with it, but it does a grand job of keeping off the rain.
The staff provide a pleasant, and helpful service without being intrusive. If you are not sure what you are looking for they will guide you towards the right decision for you.
The umbrella is an item that is and always has been used across the world. Evidence of its use goes back thousands of years to the ancient kingdoms of Egypt, Greece and Rome. However, this charming London store serves as a rather endearing reminder of Britain; both its weather and its character. We will always have a need for umbrellas, and there may be no finer signature of the gentleman than to been seen striding purposefully forwards with walking cane in hand.
53, New Oxford Street, WC1 (020-7836 4731; www.james-smith.co.uk)